There are reports of a potential issue between the RFU and PRL with regards to compensation for not playing Aviva Premiership fixtures during next year’s Rugby World Cup in England (and Cardiff). The harmony between the RFU and its leading clubs is secured by an agreement made seven years ago and the fact that PRL have far greater commercial freedom to govern their own competitions. This allowed them to lead the way in the much needed move to (E)RCC from ERC, but this required assistance from Ian Ritchie, the Chief Executive of the RFU.
If we cast our mind back to those negotiations over ERCC we can see that a major player in negotiations was the Heads of Terms Agreement signed between RRW and PRL. The partnership between the two organisations was mutually beneficial in that it allowed PRL to gain more commercial control of their cross border competitions, whilst it also allowed RRW to laugh in the face of the threats from Roger Lewis. PRL won the battle for the new European competition (with RRW as shareholders in it) and RRW had a massive boost in their standing for negotiations over a new Participation Agreement with the WRU.
However, there were some major stumbling blocks involved in that RRW / PRL Agreement. The first was that the archaic IRB regulations, under which all rugby is played, state they must approve of any such cross border competitions and they won’t do that if the Unions in question are not in favour. Therefore, any such league would likely have to have had its legality tested in a Court of Law.
Secondly, that agreement signed in 2007 between PRL and the RFU had some implications for The Championship, the second tier of professional rugby in England. They weren’t happy that PRL could act in a way that potentially affected the clubs in that tier.
PRL, however, seem to be seeking ways around this second problem. Rumours abound that PRL will make a financial offer to the RFU to take over and run the league. The fee could be between £5m and £10m and this would allow PRL to control all professional rugby in England.
How could this affect us in Wales? Well, there are not enough fully professional clubs in England to run two fully professional leagues. There is insufficient money in the second tier to match the two fully professional French leagues. So if PRL are (and they clearly are) looking to expand in order to increase income into the game, where is their natural expansion route?
It’s clear that PRL have the strategy of owning the competition and then inviting others in as shareholders, on their terms. Finally, hopefully, potentially, we could be seeing the continuation of the clubs in Europe taking control of the professional game from the Blazers.
Our best hope of a British League, or even British and Irish (and this is what is needed to match the financial might of the French), is with PRL. It should be with progressive Union Executives but we saw their motives and actions during the negotiations of ERC v RCC. They lost that battle. Let’s hope that they lose the war, too.